The First Word
By L. Jay Lemons, President
AS ANOTHER ACADEMIC YEAR CLOSES, and we prepare for Commencement, the sense of anticipation, excitement and hope that ordinarily pervades the campus this time of year is tempered by two related concerns—the uncertain employment outlook facing our graduates and the difficulties facing institutions of higher education. The obvious link between the two is the economy.
Let me focus first on our graduating students. Despite the challenges they will undoubtedly face, I am confident they will be well prepared for the next step in their journey. The value of a Susquehanna education is that we not only emphasize the intellectual and critical-thinking skills typically found at a liberal arts institution, but we also teach students practical skills that prepare them for today’s marketplace. So I expect that our students will be well positioned to pursue jobs in their related field, even in a difficult economy. And for those who decide to pursue graduate degrees, I am equally confident that the academic preparation and scholarly experiences they received here will put them ahead of their peers from other fine institutions.
After all, when it comes to postgraduate placement, history is on our side. Within six months of leaving here, 96 percent of our alumni find themselves in jobs or in graduate school. By anyone’s measure, that is an impressive record.
Turning to the concerns of the institution, I remain hopeful but also realistic. Like every other college and university, we have been affected by the recession. The value of Susquehanna’s endowment has declined about 40 percent, and operating costs are increasing at the same time.
Although the Changing Lives, Building Futures campaign has exceeded 85 percent of its $70 million campaign goal—a milestone that I thank each and every donor for helping us achieve—annual funds across the country have been hit hard and ours is no exception. Cash results are down from last year, as is alumni participation. We are very grateful for the many people who understand that their gifts matter even more today and have found a way to reach further in their stewardship of Susquehanna.
The effect of this turbulent economy on Susquehanna’s budget, both short and long term, is significant. Yet Susquehanna retains considerably more fiscal strength than some other institutions. This will allow us not only to sustain but also to strengthen the academic program in the years ahead.
Because we are committed to providing students a first-rate education, we are moving ahead with important projects already underway. Seven new faculty members will be hired to fully implement senior capstone experiences and to support the implementation of the new Central Curriculum, which places an even greater emphasis on critical learning goals for our students.
We are excited about a unique piece of our new central curriculum. It is a cross-cultural program that we are calling GO, which is short for Global Opportunities. This distinctive program, described more fully within these pages, will require every student entering this fall to have an undergraduate cross-cultural experience away from campus, either in the United States or abroad. A cross-cultural experience is designed to take students out of their everyday environment. In recent months we have received national attention for this program, in part because we are choosing to expand study-away opportunities while many other schools are retreating for financial reasons.
Our new science building is on schedule for completion in the fall of 2010. This LEED-certified facility demonstrates our commitment to sustainability and provides flexible work and learning spaces to promote cross-disciplinary collaboration.
We are implementing measures to ensure that these and other institutional objectives continue to be met well into the future. First and foremost, we are taking a number of steps to control expenses. Several discretionary capital projects have been deferred, and all hiring requests will be evaluated against strategic goals. We are also examining all budgets with an eye toward capturing as much as $1 million in savings while at the same time protecting employment, benefits and strategic, safety and health initiatives. More specifically, administrative offices have been asked to reduce their operating budgets by at least 10 percent. To protect the heart of the academic and student experience, a 5 percent reduction was requested from the academic and student life divisions.
In many ways, the earth continues to move under our feet. As we look ahead, it is impossible to say how long this global recession will last and how deep it will be. This uncertainty creates great anxiety and fear. A few weeks ago, a Susquehanna graduate from the class of 1977 visited campus to talk about his experiences as a successful business entrepreneur. He shared with our students the fears and anxiety he experienced following graduate school. It was the early 1980s, another period fraught with extraordinary economic challenges. “The only thing I knew then was that I was prepared to succeed in navigating whatever would happen because of Susquehanna University,” he told the current crop of students. “And I continue to know that today.”
The value of a Susquehanna education will continue to increase in the years ahead, and the contributions of our alumni as citizen leaders will be ever greater. Working prudently and thoughtfully together and keeping a fundamental focus on our students, we will find our way through this fiscal storm with a newly forged strength.